The modern trend in
book-plate design is to dispense with the inclusion of EX
LIBRIS and the name
of the individual or body concerned. Heraldry is, after all, a
system of identification and many heraldists now consider that any
additional form of identification is neither necessary nor
desirable. However, as a great many of the books in our library have
been presented to the Society over the years by members and friends,
it was decided that space should be made available for the inclusion
of a suitable inscription to identify and acknowledge the donor.
On occasions when a
book has not been acquired by gift or bequest, the book-plate can be
trimmed to exclude the empty space at the bottom of the design.
designing a bookplate, it is not necessary for the artist to place
the Arms within a box unless, of course, he or she is asked to do so
by the client. This is purely a matter of personal taste. Whenever a
new heraldic design is created, however, regardless of the personal
taste of the client involved, the artist must always take into
consideration the final application of the design: how and where is
it to be used? In the case of a book-plate this, luckily, presents
no problem. The final setting for a book-plate will invariably be
rectangular in shape. The design should therefore conform to this
format. There will undoubtedly be occasions when an artist will be
required to design a coat of arms to fit within any variety of
unusual shapes but the problem's which result will not be covered
The first stage of
any heraldic design requires the production of a rough sketch of the
full achievement so that one fills the whole area within which one
is working, at the same time concentrating on the relative
proportions of all the elements at one's disposal. This is best
achieved by working initially on tracing paper; any alterations can
then be made as work progresses from one stage to the next.
Scottish heraldic art, pioneered by Graham Johnston and A.G. Law
Samson and later refined by Don Pottinger, attempts to emulate the
classic proportions of medieval heraldry with shield, helm and crest
each occupying about one-third of the overall design, and the
mantling being kept as simple as possible. However, there are
occasions when a more inventive and elaborate use of mantling is
required. either to fill a space or to satisfy the personal
preference of the client. It is important, though, that however
complicated the mantling may appear in its two-dimensional form, it
should always look as if it were physically possible to achieve the
same result with a piece of fabric.
Once the artist is
satisfied with the design, the tracing can then be transferred to
its final surface. whether this be paper, vellum, line board. wood
or any number of different materials.
A book-plate design
is obviously destined finally for printing. The finished art-work
should therefore be produced on good quality line board. The final
drawing may be made using either gouache or Indian ink but, to
ensure that there is no loss of quality in the final printing, it is
always advisable to make the working drawing at least twice the size
of the eventual printed image. Thus any minor flaws in the drawing
will be sharpened up in the process of reduction.
As colour printing
these days is extremely expensive. book-plates are invariably
printed in one colour on either white or coloured This means that
the design must be produced in line and solid black. or in line and
Petra Sancta, the method of representing colour with lines of
hatching. This is named after the 17th century Jesuit writer on
heraldry who devised the system: it is generally reserved for
uncoloured illustrations where an indication of the tinctures is
In the case of the
Society's book-plate it was decided that the crest was so elaborate
that the use of hatching would only have Confused the image.
However, if in other circumstances one decided that the use of Petra
Sancta was suitable, this can either be applied free-hand or by
using one of the proprietary brands of transfer hatching. This would
obviously incur additional expense for the client but, if it is well
done and if it does not interfere with the heraldic content of the
Arms, the Petra Sancta system is both very attractive and, at the
same time, most informative.
The working methods
described in this article apply not only to bookplate design but to
any heraldic design which is intended ultimately for printing. This
would include letter-headings. business cards, invitation cards
(weddings etc.), greetings cards, book illustration —in fact. any
situation in which the display of heraldry was felt to be both
desirable and in good taste.
In his book Scots
Heraldry Sir Thomas Innes of Learney urges us to use our heraldry.
But we must be careful to use it correctly. If you are ever asked to
produce a book-plate or any other heraldic art-work, it is important
to make absolutely certain that the potential client is legally
entitled to bear the Arms in question. Many and varied are the legal
pitfalls that can open up before the unsuspecting artist. However,
in the words of Sir Thomas Innes: "Whenever it is correctly used,
[heraldic display] is not only justifiable but honest and pleasing.
No more splendid form of decoration exists, for it is at once
artistic and interesting, and affords a pleasure which meaningless
tracery and 'stock patterns' can never supply".
Tressure No.XI, 1989